So you want to be a second shooter, assistant, etc… for a photographer

So you want to be a second shooter, assistant, etc… for a photographer

Interested in becoming an assistant or second shooter for a photographer?  This is a VERY HONEST set of tips and tricks to read over as you look for that perfect 2nd shooting position.

For the past 6 years now I cater to tens if not hundreds of in person, in email, and phone request for assistants.  It’s really nice to see so much interest in the industry, but also telling of what we have to deal with as professional photographers when it comes to competition and also level of skill that maybe out there.  As a photographer instructor I want to help everyone, but as a professional photographer I know sometimes that not everyone can do what photographers do.  It’s an interesting situation.

Along with being asked by people to use them, I also have had the experience of being a second shooter for some amazing photographers the last 5 years.  My experience will be relayed there.

So to cut to the chase, here’s a list of do’s, don’ts, and stuff to be aware of.

Be willing to do the small things –
While this is obvious to some people, it’s not obvious to others.  Be ready to lift, climb, do physical labor, and more on the job.  A lot of it is menial, and you should graduate from it early.  If you are an assistant be sure to learn how to gaffers correctly, learn how to put up and break down light stands, how to interface with the lights, and most importantly how to find a secure place to hide and store equipment and cases.  The small things are one of those things you can do that really show those who work around you how awesome you are.  There’s a break in the shoot, the photographers talking to the set director and the models are changing?  It’s a good time to just pickup debris/trash around the set.  I do it as a photographer and I NEVER expect my assistants too, it’s a pleasant surprise and something I appreciate the 2nd/assistant for.

Something I personally do as a second shooter for weddings is make sure my main photographer has simple things like a glass of iced water.  When you are running  200% on a wedding day, when your 2nd comes up with a glass of water and also a quick summery of their plan of attack to knock out some great photos, you can’t help but be thankful. 

Try something unique, like setup your own shoot and invite that photographer:

Some people don’t realize how difficult it is to setup a shoot.  All the contacts you go through, setting up a location, dealing with models and other talent.  There’s a lot of logistics.  Well one flag that goes up when someone ask a photographer to be part of the shoot is “How would this person represent me” (covered later).  Well take that stress out of it by setting a shoot yourself and inviting a photographer you want to learn from over.  Some of us aren’t shooting every day, and we like to socialize.  I can’t say all of us will be available, but worst comes to worst you have a shoot that you can have fun at.

I setup shoots all the time, but instead of learning from a mentor photographer I learn from my students.  It’s really helping to see what people consistently look for help wish, and it’s a pleasure supplying the knowledge they need.

Don’t be surprised if you know more than your photographer mentor (on some things):

Photography is constantly updating itself and it’s hard to keep up with all the bells and whistles.  There’s a good chance since you are so enthusiastic about photography you may know a little more about some technical aspect of it than the person you want to work with.  Just remember though that you want to work with the photographer for a reason.  You can be as well versed in all the technical things as possible, but there is something, some magic that that photographer has that makes them who they are.  Remember you are there to learn, not to teach.  One day you will have people ask you if they can second shoot for you, make that your day to teach.

How do I react to this?  Read below.

If you know something or have an idea, that’s good, but don’t announce it:

Photography industry talk is great.  There’s a good chance the photographer you are working with is a tech head and with all the new digital stuff that’s always coming out you can talk.  It’s good if you know stuff, mostly if the photographer you are working with doesn’t know.  But NEVER EVER in front of a client or anywhere private say you know something that the photographer you are working with may not.  They are the chain of command and you talk to them.  If the photographer approves it than talk, but if he/she turns down your idea don’t be offended.  Put it in the back burner, work on it yourself, or forget about it.

I’m in a unique situation as a second shooter.  I have A LOT of experience as a main photographer, and it has intimidated some people who have hired me.  I have the privilege of doing things on my own but something I’m always aware of is keeping my work consistent with the main photographer.  If she loves high iso, bounce photography with a omnibounce, I’ll do the same.  If she ask me to do something different I will.  If we are in a corner by ourselves, I’ll throw a suggestion out.  If we are in front of a client, I nod yes and agree.

You should be happily compensated if you do your job-

Your photographer shouldn’t be a douche.  They shouldn’t work you 12 hours of hard labor, don’t feed you, don’t talk to you, or don’t pay you if you are made to do something absolutely crazy.  Money isn’t the only form of compensation, so is practical experience and knowledge.  If you feel like you aren’t getting your times worth, talk to the photographer.  Don’t start something, but just explain.  I personally love talking to my assistants/2nd shooters to answer their questions and also to take a break.  They are my crew and we have a good time.  When I can’t compensate with liquid cash, I make sure to respect the time they give.  Those assistants/seconds shooters that have worked with me for a while, I give them access to my equipment/etc so they can save $100~$250 of rentals…those are ways of paying it forward.

I made a mistake a few years ago.  I was unhappy with my compensation during a wedding as a 2nd shooter and it really affected my work.  I got the shots, but I wasn’t motivated.  Ever since then I talk to the photographer, or I just swallow it and say tomorrows another day.  For 2nd shooters looking to make money though, remember this…10 jobs at $250 is better than 1 job at $400.  If you find a photographer you love to work with, stay with them if they can give you work.  I found a wonderful one in a local Atlanta wedding photographer, and the best part is he pays me really well and consistently.  I would easily give up one gig for $500 to work with him because he’s consistent and treats me respectfully.

IMPORTANT, Don’t be a douche –
This is obvious, but to some people it isn’t.  If you are a second shooter or an assistant…you represent the company you are with.  Unless your photographer says so, avoid talking about your photography company, your shoots, your anything.  Just concentrate on learning.  Ever meet a photographer who you love, but all of a sudden they just completely flatly say NO when you ask them to assist.  Good chance someone was being a douche and burned them, and now you are suffering for it.  So here’s a simple list


–          Talk about you, you, you, while at another photographers shoot
–          Ever say you can do the job better, even with good intentions, in front of the client
–          Steal your photographers clients from him/her
–          Take a photograph at a assist session and not credit the photographer you were helping
–          Forget you are there to learn

This is so important to me that I take steps before every 2nd shoot I’m hired for.  I NEVER bring my own business cards.  If the client loves me personally, I tell them to book me through the main photographer.  And lastly I carry the business card of the person I’m working for.

Setup a website/facebook Page
It’s quick, it’s easy, and it represents you 24/7.  Sometimes you want to work with someone you love, and sometimes you just want to work.  You have to eat and pay for this hobby don’t you?  Take it from me, setup a page that shows off your work, your equipment, and a little bit about you (most importantly a picture) and let it do some of your work for you.  I’ve been contacted off my 2nd shooter page more than I count, and have gotten tons of work from it.  I also have it as a quick and easy resume to send to people that’s a little different than a sheet of paper and a few prints.  It’s also short and sweet though and all one page, not a website people looking to hire you have to go through five pages to find one image.

Have a look at mine, and set yours up asap : 

for those who aren’t as web savvy, setup a facebook page.  It makes it easy to upload information and availablility about yourself.

This was setup during this article just for you to see:

Don’t be afraid to shoot and share your work
Yay you are an assistant! well lets say you were.  Don’t be afraid to shoot and share your work, mostly with the photographer you are working with.  My ex fiance was notorious for telling me she wanted to shoot shoot shoot, and then froze during a session.  While not everyone is comfortable shooting, just remember that the client expects photos from the photographer, not you.  If you are given a little time to shoot than don’t worry about expectations, the only ones you need to meet are your own.  Just makes sure to share your shots with your photographer when you can.  Engage them in opinions.  And copy down the settings and notes for the day if you can.  Learn learn learn.

The photography you are with may not be who you want to be with
Photography is a very subjective and personal thing.  While a photographer may do amazing work, they may not be able to educate you in a way that matters.  Even if you have a great time, and your photographer is wonderful ask yourself at the end.  “Am I learning from this, and if not how can I”.  If it comes down to the fact you are, try to do what you need to improve.

You aren’t the only person asking to be someones assistant.
Don’t be offended if you don’t get selected.  Don’t be too offended if you don’t get a response back.  Sometimes photographers get 25 request in one day (some even more) for someone to be their assistant.  Just keep looking forward and trying.  You never know, that photographer who skipped out on you may come back again a few years later.

Education is what you make it, not what others make it.
This applies to all things, but remember the most important thing about education and learning is yourself.  You decide how interested you are, and how motivated you are.  The great teachers in the world can help you be more motivated, but it really is you deciding just how much you want to try.  There are many ways to educated yourself, many avenues and paths you can take that lead you down very similiar roads.  Don’t let someone telling you no stop you from learning what you want.


7 responses

  1. Great article here Trent. Something I’ve never considered, but am now thinking is a great idea. What a great way to get experience and learn the different ways people run their business.

    Do you mind if I use some quote and then link to this article on my blog

    April 7, 2012 at 1:46 am

    • Sure thing, you have my full blessings.

      April 7, 2012 at 2:00 am

  2. Pingback: Action This: Being someone’s backup can help you grow | Photo Proventure

  3. Hey Trent, just wanted to let you know that my post has been publsihed. You can find it here:

    Let me know what you think! (Or if there’s anything you’d like me to add/change)

    April 11, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    • Awesome, thank you, it looks great.

      Trent Chau Photographer – Serving North Atlanta Weddings | Commercial | Portraits | Events | All your photography needs Cell : 770.361.6080 | A member of the Professional Photographers of America

      April 12, 2012 at 7:19 am

  4. Added your info to the post. 🙂

    April 12, 2012 at 6:01 pm

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